TLDR: During my Vipassana — First random thoughts, torrents of sadness, anger clothed as excitement, and visceral fear — then feeling lighter.
I don’t think I’m going to write anything about Vipassana that someone hasn’t written before. After 10 days of silence, I haven’t walked away with some great enlightenment or understanding, but only the small knowledge that this is the beginning of a lifetime of work.
Meditation is becoming very trendy, as well as mindfulness. From apps like Headspace to books like 10% Happier, they all advertise meditation as a tool to reach the goal of inner peace. But, meditation IS the goal. The goal is to learn to spend time with yourself. Maybe you’re just better at it than I am, but this was a formidable challenge.
I don’t know whether or not it’s a gradual process that can be built up by 5 minutes a day, but I do know you have to put in the good work and the discipline if you want to get there. Vipassana is the only thing that drilled that discipline into me, because it showed me that I didn’t have that discipline in the first place.
When I first sat, the chatter was deafening. I visualized my mind like a river, balloons (thoughts) bobbing at the surface, oil (emotions) underneath, and who knows (but hopefully true self) at the bottom of the river. The moment I closed my eyes, balloon after balloon would pop up. When I tried to wrangle my busy mind into submission, that is, to push the balloon under the water, it would just come back to the surface with more force. I kept blaming myself for not having mental discipline and being able to focus. My teacher said to accept your thoughts is to show yourself the greatest amount of compassion. Soon after, I tried a different technique — when a random thought would come up, I would assign it a color, untie the balloon and then let the water take it away.
The first two days were just thought after thought, some extremely vivid — reaching into the fridge for a wheel of cheese, looking off a bridge, adjusting my thumb when holding someone’s hand. I also kept getting distracted by planning — a conference, my move, the conversations I would have after Vipassana. 22 hours of this went by relatively quickly, as such thoughts are quite entertaining.
My second two days were filled with deep, welling sadness, something that I can only describe as grieving. A lot of sadness in our life comes from loss — this sadness was very specific, as if it came from an barrage of existence. It didn’t feel like I was being left, it felt like there was a slowing down, and that taffy time was drenching the cavern behind my sternum. I felt sticky directly in that space. It grows legs against my inner edges and threatens to leave its searching, soft shadows forever. If I swallow, it’ll stay in my system for seven years. If I spit it out, it’s sick sweetness will haunt the organic shapes of my mouth, and at some later date it will curse the bottom of my foot, in the form of a piece of skin that the rest of my epidermis will not absorb. Such a plague is always self-referential.
You begin with all the times you fell in love, and then move on to all the times you almost fell in love. You start with all the times you left love, and then the times love left you; you know, those times where you were walking to the top of the staircase, the one you know exactly where it leads to, but the steps keep filling in underneath your feet.
And before you know it, you become swallowed by the smallness and humanness of all things you’ve done and committed yourself to.
When the accusing memories pouring into the space right behind my eyelids started to leak out the corners, all I could do is sit down, for an hour, two hours at a time, and patiently assign each a color and deflate them at the riverbank of my mind. My teacher was a little more compassionate about the origin of my nebulous sadness — “Sometimes when you’ve been away from home for a long time, you get overwhelmed when you feel yourself getting close.”
This is the beauty of 10 days of silence. Only when time cornered itself, when the promise of tomorrow was only identical, when there wasn’t a big wild or a rough blank weekday to fall into, did I finally crawl into bed with myself. I held myself, held my gaze, acknowledged my breath as proof, and digested.
Next came the anger, which I found easier. When it first peaked, it buried itself in the knot of nerves right above the stomach, and I confess I almost confused it with excitement — it was so sly. But I would get up from my sessions with bug bites and a mouth tasting like soot. It wasn’t until I found it’s skinny legs tucked underneath fear that I identified it. At that point, it started to color in my shoulder bones, and I was wrought by the insurmountable differences between me and everyone else. I don’t think that’s the right way to describe it, but the emotion is too isolating to leave it undescribed. There were petty angers, like long car rides without a bathroom break, and scratching furies, like again seeing the man who taught you disappointment. But those badges then become water-soluble as well, placed gently in the keyhole where my torso meets my neck.
While anger released easily, like a forgetful trademark, fear has been soaked into my capillaries since childhood through stories of thievery, robbers, and charlatans. Fear is a universal experience; birds fly away when we approach, sea anemones close up. It keeps us alive, so I couldn’t complain when fear knit itself neatly onto my eyelashes, and stared at me dishonestly as I tried to find the place before suspicion. Fear was visceral — it pumped itself in my thighs and discomfort in my joints and it took everything not to run. It told me more stories of orphanages and rotting fruit, of spin cycles and zeros. It laced itself into my ribs and burrowed into my soft palate, especially when I tried to “breathe through it”. Eventually I just had to trust in the process — that even logic couldn’t think it away. Instead, it was shooed away by the repetition, focus, and sheer monotony.
Then, before I knew it, it was over. Time would ping pong in between itself over the course of 10 days, and I had to be reminded since there were no clocks or calendars either.
I do feel like processed a lot of memories that I didn’t know needed to be processed and underlying emotions, but as Cheryl Strayed says “It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again.”
Before, when I woke up, my dream state hung onto my skin like dead dew, a vehicle that extends from my still sleeping skin, I would say 2 to 3 centimeters at best, 6 to 7 inches at worst. These things I couldn’t shake — like chronic resentment, half a nicotine addiction, and a habit of waking up in the beds of former and formed lovers — would tease me with their dawn ghost. After my Vipassana, and I opened my mouth to speak for the first time in 10 days, I could feel the words land directly on my skin.